June 17, 2021 - From the June, 2021 issue

MUSE/IQUE 2021-22 Season Explores the Streets of Los Angeles Thru Prism of Music

 As live performances return and the summer concert season begins, TPR interviews MUSE/IQUE’s Artistic Director Rachael Worby and CEO Brian Colburn. The pair highlight MUSE/IQUE’s upcoming place-based program “L.A. Composed,” which celebrates the streets of Los Angeles as unique intersections where people and culture come together to form place. Worby and Colburn invite TPR readers to learn about the iconic musicians and streets that both shape and are shaped by Los Angeles the place.


Rachael Worby

“Many people who live here, were raised here, or otherwise call Los Angeles home are not aware of the depth and richness from which Los Angeles springs, especially in the arts. Not just because of the iconic artists who made dramatic changes while they were here, but because of the communities of people who lived here and engendered magnificent, new, daring, and innovative art that could not have been born anywhere else.” —Rachael Worby

Begin, Rachael, by sharing MUSE/IQUE’s mission & artistic commitment to community.

Rachael Worby: The core of our mission is to redefine community; to bring together under one big tent, people from all communities and to approach the sharing of live art with them equally. We actually have found that we've been able to inspire the people of Los Angeles to consider a redefinition of “community”. We find this so vital here, because, unlike so many other cities, in Los Angeles, we're often trapped by freeways, which though built to enable more freedom, often have imprisoned us. What we intentionally want to do is break through that physical and psychological “gridlock.”

We have always moved our work throughout the community and performed in highly unexpected places. We did an event, for instance, in the locker room of the Rose Bowl. Though many attending had been in the skyboxes of the Rose Bowl and knew how to find their way to luxury, the locker room was foreign territory!

We've performed in locations so unexpected, that people who have lived here all their lives end up in their cars, bickering with one another about being lost—there couldn’t possibly be a concert located here! Then they arrive, and there we are, in living color, stages built, sound systems roaring. We aim to redefine where art can live—by our definition, that’s anywhere.

Elaborate on your artistic professional experiences and how they have influenced MUSE/IQUE’s current programs and musical productions.

Rachael Worby: I came to California many decades ago to become the music director of what was then the Pasadena Pops, which at the time had a quiet summer series at the Descanso Gardens in La Cañada. In a very short period of time, we expanded the breadth of the orchestra’s performances growing from four summer events to 12 or 16 events. Ultimately, the audience grew so large that we moved to a field at the Rose Bowl!

My experience in Los Angeles began when I was invited to come guest conduct that orchestra. I agreed but insisted that I also be able to do outreach. We arranged a few sessions at Hathaway Sycamores, the highly respected mental health and welfare agency, back then known as Sycamores. It was only after I engaged  in a few sessions with the young men who lived there, that I knew I wanted to take the position of Music Director with the orchestra.

Rachael, please speak to what inspired MUSE/IQUE’s upcoming program, L.A. Composed: A Festival of Los Angeles Music. Why and how is it focused on L.A.?

Rachael Worby: L.A. Composed is a program that we have been imagining for several years as a way to harness the often considered difficult-to-capture and chaotic Los Angeles; and, to reimagine it as a city vibrant and rich with music. Many people who live here, were raised here, or otherwise call Los Angeles home are not aware of the depth and richness from which Los Angeles springs, especially in the arts. Not just because of the iconic artists who made dramatic changes while they were here, but because of the communities of people who lived here and engendered magnificent, new, daring, and innovative art that could not have been born anywhere else.

Brian, as the CEO of MUSE/IQUE, please elaborate on the notion that what happens in Los Angeles can only happen in Los Angeles, and how the MUSE/IQUE program's upcoming season demonstrates that truth?

Brian Colburn: As CEO, I work to support Rachael's vision and the vision of our incredible musicians. As we started to think about a way to celebrate MUSE/IQUE’s 10th anniversary as an organization, the first idea to was to create a ‘greatest hits of our first 10 years,’ but Rachael didn't want to do anything looking back at the power of our institutional past; she wanted to do something that was going to get people looking forward. As MUSE/IQUE has grown, we've started to look at ways that we can reach more people and get into more parts of the city.

We've primarily been producing events in the San Gabriel Valley, but we have members all over the city, so we really wanted to celebrate the roots of music in the city as a way of moving forward. Rachael spoke of Los Angeles as an infinite place where everything is possible in a way that isn't possible elsewhere. Yet, at the same time, it is full of communities of people large and small that are very distinct. It is both infinite and distinct, and that kind of fault line between the two makes it just absolutely fascinating.

As we've gone through this, we found ourselves reminding people who live in Los Angeles that it’s okay to have civic pride about this place, and that it’s okay to not only talk about how terrible the traffic is, the inequities that need to be talked about, or how expensive it might be. There are things that have happened here that could never have happened anywhere else and we don't celebrate that often enough. We found that people feel really liberated by that notion, and that's worth throwing our entire company's resources behind from now through the end of next year.

Elaborate on the 2021-22 program: the venues & neighborhoods, and the cultural history that you will bring to life through the legacy of the music coming originally from Los Angeles’s streets.

Brian Colburn: We started to think about the streets of Los Angeles as a prism for music because the streets represent the people, the culture, and the place where we come together. Our streets are very distinct and yet they interconnect and intersect. We're always talking about traffic when we really want to be talking about people.

The streets became this great metaphor for how we're connecting people. Rachael is going to be creating a history of how music was created in the different neighborhoods of Los Angeles and how it all intersects. In addition to that, we were looking at the big icons who are quintessentially Los Angeles—Etta James, Nat King Cole, Carole King who created Tapestry—to demonstrate that the people who changed the world came here to do it. That's what we're going to highlight.

Rachael Worby: My inspiration for this is actually twofold. Firstly, I'm from New York, and in New York, it's the neighborhoods from which music springs. It happened in Greenwich Village, at Cafe Figaro, or The Village Vanguard or The Blue Note. Then there's Harlem, and places like The Apollo or Minton’s. Don’t forget the Broadway neighborhood, a whole world of music emerges from those streets! Because it's a grid and it's walkable, you can actually walk from seeing Hamilton to where Lin Manuel Miranda lives, so your understanding of the city is more facile.

You know the iconic artistic representation of the NYC Subway System that’s graced even the cover of the New Yorker Magazine? Well, imagine me with this subway map in my head, arriving in Los Angeles and encountering the Thomas Guide. It was the size of the Manhattan Yellow Pages phone book I used to perch on as a kid to be able to reach the piano keys—it was that fat— you would go from page 60 to page 89 just to turn a corner; that was anathema to me.

When we started to talk about Los Angeles as Brian said, I thought about the mapping of the city and remembered these extraordinary street maps that Ed Ruscha made of Los Angeles; incredible pieces of art. “That's it”, I said! “Let’s take to the streets.” 

 The moment I began to read and investigate I was awed by all I did not know about the music that poured out of streets like Central Avenue or of Whittier Boulevard. I thought I knew about music and Sunset Boulevard, or music and Grand Avenue, but the truth is, much of what I am learning is revelatory. Nat King Cole and Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington jammed late at night in the bar of the Dunbar Hotel on Central Avenue. Central Avenue was the hub of a vital African American community. Hotels, newspapers, jazz clubs—all black-owned. In Los Angeles. These discoveries are fresh and raw for me. I've been here a long time, I'm a musician and I didn't know! I am determined to bring everybody into the world I've been discovering. Isn’t this how Los Angeles works? In the uncovering of one secret you realize there’s a massive masterpiece about what you never knew.

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Share more about the season’s eclectic mix of artists and artistic disciplines that will be involved in the musical programming.

Brian Colburn: We’ll begin the season by celebrating Carole King's Tapestry for the 50th anniversary. It’s not going to be every song played as you've always heard it, it's going to be every song played in some new genre or style. We're going to have an orchestra playing and many different styles of singers from opera to gospel to jazz to folk, and all of that will enable people to hear the work as if they're hearing for the first time.

After Carole King, the next show is a celebration of Bob Dylan's biggest moments in LA from the Hollywood Bowl in 1965 to all the films that use Dylan’s music. You're going to see dance represented in many of the shows. We're going to interpret that music through dance

We'll do an Etta James show all about vocal collaboration, so you're going to hear songs that she made famous performed in many different ways, and that's what Rachael brings to this. Next year, when we explore Central Ave, it will not be a show about jazz on Central Avenue. It will be about how all of that great jazz music connects to other kinds of music throughout L.A. It's never any one show with one type of genre performance; it's all interconnected and you see that in every show.

Rachael Worby: In additionone of the concerts we're doing this summer is called ‘The House that Nat Built’; the folks at Capitol Records often said they couldn't have built the Naidorf-Becket tower without Nat King Cole's platinum recording career. 

In the course of researching Nat King Cole, I learned that something I've always known to be true: Nat King Cole was the first African American to host a television show, was not true! It was actually Hazel Scott! Nat King Cole was not the first. He isn't the Jackie Robinson of television after all; it's Hazel Scott! A woman!

Speaking of that research, Brian, at MUSE/IQUE’s May preview event a visual map was shared of Metropolitan LA that featured streets/neighborhoods and artists, it is assumed the latter will anchor your upcoming season’s concerts.

Brian Colburn: This year, we're going to be exploring icons—Nat King Cole, Etta James, Bob Dylan, Carole King—and next year we're going into streets. We'll be exploring Laurel Canyon, Topanga Canyon, Sunset Boulevard, Central Avenue, Whittier Boulevard, Route 66 and Pacific Coast Highway, the two of the most iconic streets in the world that come together in Los Angeles.

We’ll also explore downtown—Grand Avenue, Olvera Street, and the streets of Chinatown—and how those streets have seen so many different cultural changes over time. We'll be looking at the musical history of all of our downtown streets as well. We hope people will understand a new history of our city and take a fresh look at these iconic streetscapes of LA.

Given MUSE/IQUES mission: “to create events that feature an eclectic mix of artists artistic disciplines in unconventional locations, location spaces where art typically does not happen,” address the production and logistical challenges of the last year, and how the pandemic has impacted your planning for the coming two years. 

Brian Colburn: In the end, it has proliferated our creative thinking and it has expanded our planning. We always found ways to make music either on front lawns or in drive-in events. Whether it was for one person or 50 cars in a parking lot, we kept making music and created digital programs to stay connected.

As we planned for the future, what we really started to look at was what were people really missing? They're missing some familiar experiences, but what people were really hungry for was a big idea to engage with. That's how we expanded the idea of this LA music festival. We needed to do something big that's going to make people feel like they're together with one another.

As we think about expanding and getting into more venues, everybody's in this newfound adolescence right now of how we do things, what are people comfortable with, and what are the rules? We find that if we are flexible, adaptive, and generous with people, we’ll solve those problems. Those are really the lessons that we've taken in, and how we're putting them into action.

In the past couple seasons much of the program, when it wasn't on Zoom, was performed at the Huntington Museum and Gardens and other like locations.  Where will MUSE/IQUE be performing in 2021-23?

Rachael Worby: We will return to the Huntington Museum grounds. However, rather than just use those spaces as a summer home, we're likely to find ourselves there 12 months a year. We have just announced a second home for our larger events, the Skirball Cultural Center. This is extremely exciting for us, because our mission is deeply resonant with the mission of the Skirball Cultural Center. At the root of most of our work, is a social conscience and social activism. Other events will happen on the streets. We really want to move people around the city and explore all of the richness with them.

Assuming our readers are as jazzed as TPR’s publisher and editor are about MUSE/IQUE’s upcoming season, how do they attend your concerts?

Brian Colburn: We're a membership organization, so we don't focus on ticket sales. We want people to invest and become part of the journey, and they can do that on our website. For as low as $75, people can get started with membership, which comes with free admissions to all the events. If they want to participate, they can call us because we give away a third of our admissions through our community education programs to vulnerable communities around the places that we play. The reason for membership is that we're committed to giving it away so when people join as a member they get invited for free and can share it with the people who really need the music.

Rachael Worby: Giving a third of your tickets away is an unprecedented number. We don't do it just to fill the seats, we do it to ensure that we are working with the entire Los Angeles community.

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© 2021 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.